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ZZ Top performing at St. Augustine Amphitheatre in Florida on May 22, 2008, from left to right: Dusty Hill, Frank Beard (drumming), and Billy Gibbons
|Origin||Houston, Texas, United States|
|Genres||Blues rock, Southern rock, boogie rock, hard rock, rock and roll|
|Labels||American Recordings, RCA, Warner Bros., London, Columbia|
|Associated acts||Moving Sidewalks, American Blues, Lynyrd Skynyrd|
Michael "Cadillac" Johnson
ZZ Top is an American rock band from Houston, Texas. Formed in 1969, the group consists of Billy Gibbons (guitar and vocals), Dusty Hill (bass and vocals), and Frank Beard (percussion). ZZ Top's early sound was rooted in blues but eventually grew to exhibit contemporary influences. Throughout their career they have maintained a sound based on Hill's and Beard's rhythm section support, accentuated by Gibbons' guitar and vocal style. Their lyrics often gave evidence of band's humor and thematically focus on personal experiences and sexual innuendos.
ZZ Top formed its initial lineup in 1969, consisting of Anthony Barajas (bass and keyboards) and Peter Perez (drums and percussion). After several incarnations, Hill and Beard joined within the following year. Molded into a professional act by manager Bill Ham, they were subsequently signed to London Records and released their debut album. They were successful as live performers, becoming known to fans as "that little ol' band from Texas", and their 1973 album Tres Hombres, according to Allmusic, propelled the band to national attention and "made them stars". In 1979, after returning from a one-and-a-half year break of touring, the group reinvented themselves with their hit album Degüello and the accompanying tour. ZZ Top incorporated New Wave and punk influences into their sound and performances, and embraced a more iconic image, with Gibbons and Hill sporting chest-length beards and sunglasses. Similar experimentation continued for the remainder of the 1980s and 1990s with varying levels of success. On ZZ Top's 2003 album Mescalero, they adopted a more contemporary sound while maintaining their influences from their earlier musical pursuits.
Maintaining the same members for over forty years, ZZ Top has released 14 studio albums and are among the most popular rock groups, having sold more than 50 million albums worldwide,half of this figure concerning the United States alone. They have won three VMAs, and in 2004, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. VH1 ranked ZZ Top at number 44 in its list of the "100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock". They have performed at many charity events and raised $1 million for the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Mississippi.
ZZ Top formed in Houston on June 20, 1969. Billy Gibbons, who previously formed the Moving Sidewalks in 1966, had suggested "ZZ King" as a potential name for the band after looking at posters of Z. Z. Hill and B.B. King on his apartment wall. According to Gibbons' autobiography Rock + Roll Gearhead, he settled on "ZZ Top" because B.B. King was "on the top". Consisting of Lanier Greig on keyboards and Moving Sidewalks' drummer Dan Mitchell, the group was signed to London Records by manager Bill Ham, and released two singles—"Salt Lick" and "Miller's Farm". Soon after, Greig and Mitchell left the group and were replaced by Billy Etheridge and Frank Beard. Etheridge quit the band in January 1970, and was replaced by Michael "Cadillac" Johnson; Johnson was replaced by Dusty Hill the following month:
For the record, I was not fired from ZZ Top for being 'a bad inﬂuence on Frank Beard.' I had received a call from my two old buddies Jimmie Vaughan and Doyle Bramhall about coming back to Dallas to play the blues with my homeboys. After talking to them, I quit the band. I did this just before the band signed with London Records. I didn’t want to be tied down to a contract with that particular band at that point in time. I have only the utmost respect for Billy, Frank, and Dusty.—Billy Etheridge, 
The finalized lineup of ZZ Top performed their first show on February 10, 1970 in Beaumont, Texas. The group's debut album, ZZ Top's First Album, was released in January 1971; the single, "(Somebody Else Been) Shakin' Your Tree", peaked at number 50 on the Billboard Hot 100. Despite being unpolished, the album established the band's sound and attitude, as Allmusic's Stephen Thomas Erlewine noted that it's filled with "fuzzy guitars, barrelhouse rhythms, dirty jokes, and Texan slang".
The band's second album, Rio Grande Mud, was released in 1972, receiving favorable reviews and limited radio play. With only one single released from the album, Rio Grande Mud charted at 104 on the Billboard 200. After touring in support of the album, ZZ Top released Tres Hombres in 1973. Tres Hombres's earthy and "infectious" sound were results of the propulsion from Hill and Beard's rhythm support, coupled with Gibbons' "growling" guitar tone. Erlewine wrote that the album "brought ZZ Top their first Top Ten record, making them stars in the process". The album included the boogie-driven "La Grange", which was written about a brothel in La Grange, Texas. On the subsequent tour, the band performed sold-out concerts in the US. ZZ Top recorded the live tracks for their 1975 album, Fandango!, during this tour and showcased their prowess in exciting live audiences. Fandango! was a top ten album and its single, "Tush", peaked at number 20 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Tejas, released in 1976, was not as successful or as positively received as their previous efforts, although the album went to No.17 on Billboard's Pop Albums chart. ZZ Top continued the Worldwide Texas Tour in support of Tejas, though they had been touring for seven years. The band went on what was supposed to be a 90-day break from public appearances. Gibbons traveled to Europe, Beard had gone to Jamaica, and Hill went to Mexico. The break extended to two years, during which Gibbons and Hill grew chest-length beards:
|“||Bill [Ham] called a band meeting, and when the three members arrived, they noticed something had changed during their time apart. They had always had some form of facial hair, with Frank usually sporting a mustache, while Billy and Dusty had scruffy little beards no more than an inch or two long. Things were quite different now. "I walk into the room, and I'm lookin' at a guy I think I know," Billy laughs. "My beard has grown to doormat proportions. And I realize that Dusty had done the same thing." Ironically, Frank Beard was the only clean-shaven member, having hacked off his mustache and goatee so he would look presentable for the meeting.||”|
In 1979, ZZ Top signed with Warner Bros. Records and released the album Degüello. While the album went platinum, it only reached No.24 on the Billboard chart. The album produced two singles, including "I Thank You," a cover of a song recorded by Sam and Dave, and "Cheap Sunglasses." The band remained a popular concert attraction and toured in support of Degüello. In April 1980, ZZ Top made their first appearance in Europe, performing for the German music television show Rockpalast. The next album, El Loco, was released in October 1981, featuring three singles ("Tube Snake Boogie," "Pearl Necklace," and "Leila").
ZZ Top's next album was even more successful. Eliminator, released in March 1983, featured two Top 40 singles ("Gimme All Your Lovin'" and "Legs"), four Mainstream Rock hits (including "Got Me Under Pressure" and "Sharp Dressed Man"), and "Legs" peaking at No.13 on the Club Play Singles chart. Eliminator was a critical and commercial success, selling more than 10 million copies, and several music videos were in regular rotation on MTV. The band also won their first MTV Video Music Awards in the categories of Best Group Video for "Legs," and Best Direction for "Sharp Dressed Man." The music videos were included in their Greatest Hits video, which has been released on DVD ever since and quickly went multi-platinum.
The “Eliminator” album was not without controversy. According to former stage manager David Blayney (15 years with ZZ Top) in his book, "Sharp Dressed Men," sound engineer Linden Hudson co-wrote much of the material on the album as a live-in high-tech music teacher to Beard and Gibbons. And, despite continued denials by the band, it settled a five-year legal battle with Hudson, paying him a sum of money after he proved he held the copyright to the song "Thug" which appeared on "Eliminator". It's a fact that after the five year legal dispute ZZ Top paid Linden Hudson $600,000 in a settlement for his song "Thug". David Blayney further described, in his book, the role Linden played in the process of planning and preparing "Eliminator". This was well demonstrated in the writing and making of a demo of the song "Under Pressure". Billy and Linden wrote the whole song and created a recorded demo all in one afternoon without either Dusty or Frank even knowing about it. Linden created the bass on a synthesizer, created drums on a drum machine and helped Billy Gibbons write the lyrics; Billy performed the guitars and vocals. David Sinclair, of the London Times, described in his book "The Story Of ZZ Top" how Linden Hudson drew Billy's attention to the possibility of using a drum machine for the final recording of the Eliminator album. Deborah Frost, writer for Rolling Stone Magazine, described in her book "ZZ Top - Bad And Worldwide" how Linden Hudson researched popular song tempos, then presented Billy Gibbons with the results of his studies. Linden's data suggested that 120 beats per minute was the most popular tempo in the rock music market at that time. Billy decided to go for it and recorded most of the Eliminator album at that tempo.
Despite not selling as many copies as Eliminator, 1985's Afterburner was still as successful commercially, becoming their highest-charting album, and racking up sales of 5 million units. All of the singles from Afterburner were Top 40 hits, with two hitting No.1 on the Mainstream Rock chart. The music video for "Velcro Fly" was choreographed by pop singer Paula Abdul. ZZ Top's grueling Afterburner World Tour lasted well into 1987, which also saw the release of The ZZ Top Sixpack, a three-disc collection of ZZ Top's albums from 1970 to 1981, with the exception of Degüello. The albums "ZZ Top's First Album", "Rio Grande Mud", "Tres Hombres", "Fandango" and "Tejas" were remixed with the result that the sound of the material from the first five albums was changed to sound like they had been recorded in the 1980s, with echo and drum machines, and very unlike their original album sound. Many of the original mixes were used on the 2003 CD box set Chrome, Smoke & BBQ and it's companion piece Rancho Texicano. Also, remastered versions of Tres Hombres and Fandango were eventually released on CD in 2010 with the original mixes intact. However, the remaining songs from ZZ Top's First Album, Rio Grande Mud and Tejas have never appeared on CD in their original mixes.
Recycler, released in 1990, was ZZ Top's last studio album under contract with Warner Records. Recycler was also the last of a distinct sonic trilogy in the ZZ Top catalogue. The collection actually marked a return towards the earlier, simpler guitar-driven blues sound with less synthesizer and pop bounce of the previous two albums. This move did not entirely suit the fan base that Eliminator and Afterburner had built up, and while Recycler did achieve platinum status, it never matched the sales of Eliminator and Afterburner. The cartoonish and sexy-ZZ-girl videos continued in singles like "My Head's in Mississippi", "Give It Up", and "Burger Man".
ZZ Top contributed a song, "Doubleback", and appeared as an acoustic band in the wild-west dance scene in the 1990 movie Back to the Future Part III. The band also appeared in the 1990 TV movie Mother Goose Rock 'n' Rhyme, portraying the Three Men in a Tub. In 1992, Warner released ZZ Top's Greatest Hits along with a new Rolling Stones-style cut "Gun Love" and an Elvis-inflected video, "Viva Las Vegas". In 1993, ZZ Top inducted a major influence, Cream, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
In 1994 the band signed to a $35 million deal with RCA Records, releasing the million-selling Antenna in 1994. Subsequent RCA albums, Rhythmeen (1996) and 1999's XXX (the second album to feature live tracks) sold well, but did not reach the levels enjoyed previously. ZZ Top, however, continued to play to enthusiastic live audiences. In 2003 ZZ Top released a final RCA album, Mescalero, an album thick with harsh Gibbons guitar and featuring a hidden track – a cover version of "As Time Goes By". RCA impresario Clive Davis wanted to do a collaboration record (in the mode of Carlos Santana's successful Supernatural) for this album. In an interview in Goldmine magazine, artists Pink, Dave Matthews, and Wilco were among the artists slated for the project.
A comprehensive four-CD collection of recordings from the London and Warner Bros. years, Chrome, Smoke & BBQ, was released in 2003. It featured the band's first single (A- and B-side), several rare B-side tracks as well as a radio promotion from 1979, a live track and several extended dance mix versions of their biggest MTV hits. Three tracks from Billy Gibbons' pre-ZZ band, The Moving Sidewalks, were also included.
Expanded and remastered versions of the original studio albums from the 1970s and ’80s are currently in production. Marketed as "Remastered and Expanded," these releases include additional live tracks which were not present on the original recordings. Three such CDs have been released to date (Tres Hombres, Fandango!, and Eliminator). The first two were released in 2006 and use the original mixes free from echo and drum machines, while "Eliminator" was released in 2008. The Eliminator re-release also features a collector's edition version containing a DVD featuring several videos and additional live tracks.
As of 2006, it was reported that ZZ Top were recording their 15th studio album. There was no release, however, and on September 17, 2006, the band ended their tenure with RCA Records and further left their manager Bill Ham, president of Lone Wolf Management. No reasons were publicized for these changes. In December 2006, Sanctuary Management added ZZ Top to its roster.
ZZ Top performed at the 2008 Orange Bowl game in Miami, as well as the Auto Club 500 NASCAR event at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. On June 23, 2008, ZZ Top celebrated the release of their first live concert DVD entitled Live From Texas with the world premiere, a special appearance, and charity auction at the Hard Rock Cafe in Houston. The DVD was officially released on June 24, 2008. The featured performance was culled from a concert filmed at the Nokia Theater in Grand Prairie, Texas on November 1, 2007.
In July 2008, the band announced they have signed with producer Rick Rubin and are recording a new album. Rubin will be producing the next album, and it has been reported that the band will be aiming to move back to their pre-80s La Grange sound.
The Eliminator Collector's Edition CD/DVD, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the band's iconic RIAA Diamond Certified album, was released September 10, 2008. The release includes seven bonus tracks and a bonus DVD, including four television performances from The Tube in November 1983.
The band performed at the 2009 Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo on the final night on March 22, 2009. In July, the band appeared on VH1's Storytellers, in celebration of their four decades as recording artists.
On June 8, 2011, a press release, reported on various media sources, announced that the new song "Flyin' High" will debut in space. Astronaut and friend of ZZ Top, Michael Fossum, was given the released single to listen to on his trip to the International Space Station.
Billy Gibbons stated in an interview in August 2011 that the new album had been recorded, with initial recording taking place in Malibu, California before moving to Houston, but was still unnamed and had yet to be mixed and mastered. Gibbons said that the expected release date was sometime in March or April 2012 but most recently a release in the late summer or fall has been announced.
The album is produced by Rick Rubin. The first single from the album, "I Gotsta Get Paid", debuted in an advertising campaign for Jeremiah Weed, and appears on the soundtrack for the film Battleship. The song itself is an interpretation of "25 Lighters" by Texan hip-hop DJ DMD and rappers Lil' Keke and Fat Pat. The first four songs from the yet untitled album debuted on June 5, 2012 on an EP called Texicali.
In addition to recording and performing concerts, ZZ Top has also been involved with films and television. In 1990, the group appeared as the "band at the party" in the film Back to the Future Part III, and played the "Three Men in a Tub" in the movie Mother Goose Rock 'n' Rhyme. ZZ Top made further appearances, including the "Gumby with a Pokey" episode of Two and a Half Men in 2010 and the "Hank Gets Dusted" episode of King of the Hill in 2007. The band were also guest hosts on an episode of WWE Raw. In 2008, ZZ Top performed "Sharp Dressed Man" with David Cook at the season 7 finale of American Idol. Billy Gibbons also portrays the father of Angela Montenegro in the television show Bones.
Despite ZZ Top's popularity and success in the 1970s, it wasn't until the 1980s that they started winning major awards and honors. ZZ Top's music videos won awards throughout the 1980s, winning once each in the categories Best Group Video, Best Direction, and Best Art Direction. The videos that won the VMAs are "Legs," "Sharp Dressed Man," and "Rough Boy." Some of the high honors ZZ Top have achieved include induction into Hollywood's RockWalk in 1994, the Texas House of Representatives naming them "Official Heroes for the State of Texas", a declaration of "ZZ Top Day" in Texas by then-governor Ann Richards on May 4, 1991, and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. They were also given commemorative rings by actor Billy Bob Thornton from the VH1 Rock Honors in 2007.
ZZ Top also holds several chart and album sales feats, including six number one singles on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. From the RIAA, ZZ Top has achieved 4 gold, 3 platinum, and 2 multi-platinum album certifications, in addition to one diamond album. In addition to this, many of their songs have become classic rock and hard rock radio staples.
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